Places to Visit in Florida Besides Disney World

by AbbyFitz

Taking a Florida vacation and wondering what else there is to see besides a talking mouse? A native Floridian gives you the inside scoop to seeing the best of Florida.

When it comes to Florida vacations, two things usually come to people's minds: the beach and Disney World.

But what if you're not into theme parks or sunburns? Should you even bother coming to the Sunshine State on your vacation?

There's a treasure trove of things to see and do in Florida that most people visiting for the first time -- or those who've lived here for years -- have never heard of.

Florida: The State of Unexpected Wonders

From mermaids to conquistadors, the Sunshine State has it all.

I'm a native of Florida. I've been to the beach. I've been to Disney. I could really do without both. Why? For one, I'm too white for to the beach. Let me take that back. I'm too red for the beach, because that's what color I'll be after two minutes tops.

Two, I don't really care for Disney World because it's fake. It's made to look like everywhere else but Florida. I just want to shout to all the picture taking, sun-seeking hordes, "this isn't Florida!"

So through a lifetime of living here and avoiding Florida's two major tourist draws, I've embraced the other Florida. The Florida that most visitors bypass on their way to snap a pic with Mickey.

I've listed just a few places here, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. If you're wanting to find more offbeat places to visit in Florida, I recommend the book Florida Authentica. It lists pretty much everything there is to see in Florida other than the obvious attractions I'm sure you've heard of.

What to do in Florida?
What to do in Florida?

See Live Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs

A cheap way to spend the day in central Florida.

Weeki Wachee EntranceDon't think mermaids are real? Well, they are in Weeki Wachee Springs. It's only about two hours west of Orlando, so if you just can't live without a visit to see Mickey and Donald, it won't be too far out of your way.

I visited Weeki Wachee when I was about seven years old. As I watched the mermaids swim in the underwater theater, I was mesmerized. It's a memory I've kept with me all my life.

This year I wondered if watching mermaids swim would be as magical 30 years later, so I talked my then fiance into taking a day trip down south. He was skeptical, but agreed to take me. Love rocks!

After sitting through two different mermaid shows, I have to tell you I'm still fascinated with the Weeki Wachee mermaids, but it's for an entirely different reason than when I was a kid. The skill these performers have underwater is amazing. I wish I could swim and not burn. I'd totally rock that bikini top and tail.

But there's more to see at the springs than mermaids. Across the lagoon from the theater is a water park with slides that slide into the springs. There's a boat ride that will take you on a lazy journey down the Weeki Wachee River. Guides will tell you about the native wildlife and history of the area. Of course, no trip to Florida is complete without seeing an alligator, and there are animal shows that will show and tell you all about Florida's other famous animal.

Mermaids of Weeki Wachee:

Mermaids of Weeki Wachee
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More Photos from Weeki Wachee:

Weeki Wachee Water Slide Park
Weeki Wachee Water Slide Park
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Weeki Wachee River
Weeki Wachee River
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A Real Florida Gator
A Real Florida Gator
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Peacock
Peacock
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Can you Spot the Mermaids?

Not planning a vacation to Florida anytime soon? It's okay, you can still see the mermaids in action.

You've probably seen the mermaids from Weeki Wachee and didn't even realize it. In Kelly Clarkson's video, "Stronger" they appear several times. Watch and see if you can find a mermaid!

Learn More About Weeki Wachee:

Other Great Places to Visit in Florida:

Before Walt Disney World and Seaworld there was Marineland. Learn the history of the park and why even after 75 years Marineland is a must-see attraction.
Walt Disney wasn't the first to exploit Florida's way of life. Savvy businessmen gave the Indians the boot to build a health resort aimed at parting tourists from their money.

Become a Younger You at the Fountain of Youth

Jack Sparrow had it all wrong. The real fountain of youth is in St. Augustine, Florida.
Fountain of Youth
Fountain of Youth
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First off, if you're a history buff, St. Augustine should be the top city in Florida, if not the United States, you should want to visit. It's the oldest city in the U.S., and it's chock full of historical sites to see.

One of them is the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Yes, it's that fountain of youth. It is said to have been discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, and it's been attracting those seeking curative waters since for years.

Don't just show up and think all you're going to see is water bubbling up out of the ground, though. There's more to do than drink up. There's a lot to see in this 15 acre park.

The Discovery Globe theater gives visitors a sense of how the New World, and Florida in particular, was founded. Long before Ponce de Leon arrived the site was home to Indians, and there's a recreated Indian village that shows how they lived there on the inlet.

The park is also home to the site of the very first mission in the United States, the Nombre de Dios. It's been historically recreated so visitors can see it as it was 500 years ago. There's other recreated structures on the property, and reenactors are at the park on special occasions. To me, it's amazing to see how Floridians lived a half millenia ago.

I visited for the first time last year, and I fell in love with the park. It's minimal, something I like in an attraction. I drank my cup of water from the fountain. (it's free!) Sorry to report I feel and look just as old as I ever did.

Images from the Fountain of Youth Park:

Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
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Florida Peacock
Florida Peacock
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St. Augustine, Florida, Reenactors
St. Augustine, Florida, Reenactors
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Tower at the Fountain of Youth Park
Tower at the Fountain of Youth Park
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See What the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park has to Offer:

Fountain of Youth Souvenirs:

Marineland: The Humane Alternative to Seaworld

Located just south of St. Augustine, it's the park to visit if you'd rather not patronize Seaworld for ethical reasons.
Dolphin at Marineland
Dolphin at Marineland
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Most visitors to Florida have never heard of Marineland. Heck, most Floridians haven't heard of it. But if it's your goal to get up close and personal with dolphins on your Florida vacation, it's the place to visit.

It's not a park where you'll see dolphins perform as they would in Seaworld. Marineland is more education based. Visitors can simply observe the dolphins and their trainers, or they can be a dolphin trainer for a day, swim with them, and learn how these amazing animals learn and live in the sea.

There's also a pretty cool museum that displays items spanning from Marineland's opening, way back in 1938, up to the time it closed as a show park in the 90's.

Marineland is definitely worth visiting if you're interested in aquatic life, especially dolphins. I've written a detailed history and review of Marineland, which will give you a better idea as to what to expect from your visit.

Vintage Marineland Postcards:

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Dolphin Training
Dolphin Training
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Colorful Fish at Marineland
Colorful Fish at Marineland
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See Florida through a Glass Bottom Boat

Just outside of Ocala, Silver Springs gets you into Florida's slow lane.

I visited Silver Springs on field trips many times as a child. It had boats, animal shows, and a Jeep ride. It was a little kid's paradise. Even as an adult my favorite thing to do was ride the glass bottom boat, which would take visitors down the Silver River and tell them different facts about the springs and the area's history.

Entrance to Silver Springs
Entrance to Silver Springs
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For example, the early Tarzan movies and a few episodes of Sea Hunt were filmed here. During the 30 years Tarzan filmed here, a few monkeys that were used in the movies kind of liked the area, escaped, and lived quite happily on the river until they were relocated. 

For years, Silver Springs was a pretty popular destination. It was even used as a concert venue and top country music artists performed here. But as with most older attractions in Florida, it finally lost visitors to bigger and shinier attractions further south. It finally closed in 2012, and became part of the State Park system.

The only boat ride that remains is, thankfully, the glass bottom boats. Canoers and kayakers can now enter the park from the river. Silver Springs had beautiful gardens and trails, and the State Park system has kept them and even expanded the trail system.

Unfortunately, the animals have been relocated to zoos, so if you were wanting to see an alligator on your trip to Florida, I'm sorry to tell you, you won't find them here. Well, at least not in captivity anyway.

Silver Springs, Florida
Silver Springs, Florida
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Give Authentic Florida a Try

Yeah, I know you're coming to see a certain mouse, but, hey, humor me.

I know I'll never talk everyone out of skipping Disney and the beach on their Florida vacation. And I don't recommend avoiding it altogether. After all, the beach can be gorgeous, and some of the rides in Orlando are pretty darn cool.

But if you're visiting Florida and you're sick of the crowds and the tourist traps that Florida is a master of creating, getting off the beaten path is the best thing to do.

Florida has so much more to offer visitors than the typical cookie cutter Florida vacation, but most tourists just don't realize it. 

So if you're curious to see parts of Florida many don't know even exist, take a day out of your vacation and travel to some of these places I've listed, or just drive until you find a hidden gem of your own. 

More Books to Help you Find the Hidden Florida:

Roadside Florida: The Definitive Guide to the Kingdom of Kitsch

Visit Goofy Golf, Florida's coolest miniature golf course. Explore Gatorama, home to the state's largest captive croc, Goliath. See Orange World, the 62-foot-tall orange-shaped ...

View on Amazon

Weird Florida: Your Travel Guide to Florida's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets

Praise for Weird Florida: “ this series is distinguished by its focus on stories over places and its colorful photos.” —Library Journal

View on Amazon

Visiting Small-Town Florida

This new edition of Bruce Hunt’s popular guide reveals the real, old-time Florida still to be found on the back roads of the Sunshine state in little towns that lure you in with...

View on Amazon

Oddball Florida: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places

This entertaining guide directs travelers to the off-the-wall and offbeat destinations in Florida, home of gator wrestlers, school bus demolition derbies, Hemingway wannabes, th...

View on Amazon

Updated: 10/19/2014, AbbyFitz
 
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AbbyFitz on 12/13/2014

You're welcome! There's a lot to do here nobody knows about.

Guest on 12/12/2014

Thanks for showing these places I have never heard of, but would like to visit!

AbbyFitz on 10/20/2014

Thank you! Disney doesn't have a lot to offer visitors if they're not into rides in the first place. There's lots of other things to do here that can be just as fun.

ologsinquito on 10/20/2014

Florida looks so interesting. I have zero interest in going to Disney World, so I'd love to see the other parts of this state. Your pictures are beautiful.

AbbyFitz on 10/20/2014

Thanks Pam. I love st. Augustine too. There's so much history to see.

AbbyFitz on 10/20/2014

@writerartist florida is worth a visit. I'm sure you'd love it!

dustytoes on 10/20/2014

You are so right Abby, there is much to see in the beautiful state of Florida. St. Augustine is one of my favorite areas.

WriterArtist on 10/19/2014

There are some of the most amazing photos that tempt me to pay a visit to Florida. It is one of the beautiful places for a vacation.

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